The superstar and the homecoming king. The coach and the booster and even the Texas-sized lineman with a heart of gold. For the Manvel Mavericks, this year had all the makings of a sequel to Friday Night Lights. But some things are too good to be true.

By Jason King

January 24, 2017

Huddled in the end zone of AT&T Stadium—beneath a silver, inflatable football helmet with a red-and-blue “M” on the side—the Manvel Mavericks ready themselves not for a football game, but for a fight.

That’s how their coach has ordered them to view tonight’s contest with Temple in the Texas state quarterfinals, and apparently they’ve embraced the message. Some players tug each other’s facemasks. Several exchange shoves to the shoulder pads. A few even drop to their knees and bark.

“Two minutes!” team captain Keylon Stokes screams as he glances at the scoreboard clock. It’s 9:28 p.m. “Two minutes ‘til it’s time to kick that ass!”

Sirens blare as a machine blasts the Mavericks with artificial smoke that hovers in the air around them, like fog over a swamp. Three armed police officers escort Manvel’s coaches out of the tunnel—the same one the Dallas Cowboys use–and onto the field. TV cameramen position themselves on the sideline as pretzel vendors snake through the stands, where nearly 14,000 fans shake pompoms and wave Fathead cutouts of their favorite players from $15 seats.

All for a high school football game. Actually, make that a high school football game in Texas. Things here are a bit different. Still, amid all the commotion prior to kickoff on December 3, Manvel remains focused on the only thing that matters: beating Temple.

Intense as the atmosphere may be, the Mavericks are prepared. They’ve been building toward this night since February, when the University Interscholastic League—the governing body of Texas high school sports—announced that the opening of a new high school would cause an enrollment dip at Manvel High School, located in a suburb by that name about 20 miles outside of Houston.

Rather than continue to compete in Class 6A, the state’s largest division, the Mavericks would drop to Class 5A, a move that evoked anger—and fear—among coaches in their new bracket.

At 13-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state, Manvel arrived at AT&T Stadium needing just three more wins to accomplish its goal: the school’s first state championship.

“I don’t have any doubt we’re going to win it,” Derrick Tucker, a safety who has committed to Texas A&M, said a few days earlier. “There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. We’re the best team in the state, and when all is said and done, we’ll have proven it.”

Manvel's team bus leaves the high school parking lot for its second-round playoff game against New Caney; Manvel's dance squad prepares for its halftime performance. Photos by Sandy Carson

Although they pride themselves on their blue-collar mentality, the Mavericks certainly don’t mind the celebrity treatment they’ve received heading into this showdown.

A luxury bus carries them on the four-hour trip from Manvel. They eat pregame dinner, complete with waiter service, in a Hilton Arlington ballroom decorated with Christmas trees. When they enter the visitor’s locker room at AT&T Stadium, the Mavericks discover blue, customized nameplates with white lettering—the same style used by Dak, Dez, Romo and Witten—tacked above their stalls.

“The bottom line is this,” head coach Kirk Martin tells his players during a pregame speech. “They came here tonight to take away your destiny. They came here tonight to send you home.”

The possibility of that happening seems slim as Manvel exits the locker room and trots through the tunnel. Simply looking at the Mavericks is jarring. Manvel’s starting offensive linemen weigh an average of 285 pounds. Its 17-year-old nose tackle squats just under 600 pounds and bench-presses 350. The Mavericks’ running back is a sprinter who once ran the 40-yard dash in 4.2 seconds. He’s one of 22 players who has scored a touchdown.

A minimum of 10 players—and that’s a conservative estimate—are expected to sign Division I football scholarships either this spring or next. That includes star junior receiver Jalen Preston, who received an offer from LSU.

As a freshman.

Unless you spend a season with the team, it’s easy to miss that the key reason for Manvel’s success isn’t its talent on the field; it’s the camaraderie the players have formed off it. The chemistry is especially impressive considering the diversity on its roster.

While one player’s father watches the state quarterfinals from the stands as the school’s vice principal, another’s hopes to get updates on the game at his halfway house back in Houston. As one defensive back struggles to make grades to qualify for college, another takes AP classes and has a realistic shot of earning a scholarship to Stanford. As one lineman plans for his upcoming Mormon mission, another has no idea where he’ll sleep the next week—officially classified by the school district as “homeless.”

At the center of it all is Martin, who became Manvel’s first and only head coach when the school opened back in 2006. Among the many pit stops of Martin’s career was a stint at Odessa Permian High School, the subject of the best-selling book Friday Night Lights and the inspiration for the cult TV show of the same name.

Nearly 30 years after the book’s publication, much about Texas high school football has changed. Recruiting services, 7-on-7 summer competitions and Snapchat have given the sport a more commercial, ever-present feel.

Yet in other ways, things remain the same. Whether fans are putting a “For Sale” sign in a coach’s front yard after a loss or rehashing a win on Saturday morning at the donut shop, the craze over watching teenagers play football is stronger than ever.

That’s especially true in Manvel, where the Mavericks are on the cusp of their first state title. As the sirens sound and the smoke thickens, Stokes delivers one final message to his teammates before they storm out.

“We gave our blood, sweat and tears for each other!” he screams. “We do this every day! We live for this!

“Let’s go!”

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Receiver Jalen Preston is the most high-profile recruit in school history. Photo by Michael Kirby Smith


As he lines up to receive the opening kickoff, Jalen Preston can’t help but wonder who is in the stands.

Michigan, Texas A&M, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Baylor. For the past two years, the top football programs in the nation have sent scouts to Manvel’s games to watch him play. And throughout this fall, they’ve flooded his Twitter account with direct messages and blown up his cellphone with texts.

On some days, the mailbox outside Preston’s home is so crammed with recruiting letters—Oklahoma has sent him more than 100 handwritten notes—that he needs a bag to haul them to the garage, where they’re added to the thousands of envelopes stacked in bundles, separated by school and wrapped in rubber bands.

Asked how he feels about the attention and fuss, the soft-spoken Preston smiles gently. “Blessed,” he says.

Tulsa-bound Stokes is the team leader. And Tucker, the bone-rattling safety headed for Texas A&M, provides the bravado and swagger. But make no mistake: Only a junior, Preston is the face of Manvel’s program. ranks the 6’1”, 202-pound receiver as the 33rd-best player in the class of 2018. “And that may be too low,” Jeremy Crabtree, the site’s recruiting editor, says. “He can literally go to any college he wants.”

Few high schools in the nation boast as much talent as Manvel, a conveyor belt for high-level prospects. Twenty-three players from the Class of 2016 alone signed college scholarships, including 11—the highest number in Texas—with Division I programs. Still, the Mavericks have never had an attraction quite like Preston.

The craze began in January 2015, when an LSU assistant visited the school to inquire about a handful of standout juniors and seniors. Martin answered the coach’s questions, then smiled. “I’ve got another guy you might be interested in,” he said before showing the assistant a mixtape of Preston playing basketball that had been compiled the previous year, when Preston was an eighth-grader.

Startled by his muscular stature and athleticism—he was dunking with ease—the coach insisted on meeting Preston immediately. So he and Martin ventured to the gymnasium and found Preston practicing windmill and behind-the-back slams. The assistant approached Preston, shook his hand and offered him a football scholarship to LSU despite never having seen him play a down.

Fourteen more Power Five schools have offered Preston since that afternoon two years ago. On a college football Saturday this fall, he attended Texas’ game against West Virginia on an unofficial visit, then hopped in the car and drove to Texas A&M, where he sat alongside other 4-star recruits for the Aggies’ tilt with Ole Miss.

As the glare has intensified, Preston’s parents, Derick and Shayla, have been doing everything they can to make sure their son remains focused. They receive alerts on their phone whenever Jalen sends out a tweet and instruct him to delete anything that may be viewed as inappropriate. Derick stresses the importance of being coachable and of running routes full speed, even if the ball isn’t coming to him. Green vegetables are a staple of every meal.

Jalen Preston. Photo by Michael Kirby Smith

Most of all, Derick and Shayla—former college basketball stars who are in Sam Houston State’s Hall of Honor—remind Jalen to “be a kid.” They tell him to relish his time at Manvel and to not let the attention overwhelm him.

“If he’s feeling pressure, he’s not acting like it,” Derick says. “It might come eventually, but right now I think he’s enjoying it.”

As the game at AT&T Stadium approaches, Manvel fans are still buzzing about the scoring run Preston reeled off against defending state champion Cedar Park in the third round of this season’s playoffs. On the final play of the first half, Preston caught a dump pass a few feet from the right sideline, juked eight defenders with fakes, step-backs and spins, then raced 52 yards across the field for a touchdown.

“Oh my goodness,” Preston said moments later in the halftime locker room. “My chest is about to explode.”

Along with giving Manvel a 40-21 lead in an eventual 47-35 victory, it also provided a much-needed jolt of momentum.

After outscoring their first 12 opponents 600-125, the Mavericks had finally faced—and flourished against—some stiff competition. It was a test they sorely needed heading into the following week’s quarterfinal showdown against Temple.

Video by Michael Kirby Smith


Standing before his players in the halftime locker room, Kirk Martin isn’t quite sure what to say. Earlier in the week, he’d scoffed when Temple’s coach vowed during a radio interview that his team would show Manvel “what it was like to get hit in the mouth.”

But that’s exactly what happens in an opening half that concludes with Preston getting gang-tackled in his own end zone for a safety that leaves the Mavericks down 11-7—the first time all season they’d trailed at halftime.

Martin removes his red baseball cap, rubs the back of his head and speaks gently. He is determined to remain upbeat. “That was about as bad as we could play offensively, and we’re only down by four,” the coach says. “Keep your head up and go unbuckle somebody.”

Throughout most of the school’s existence, Manvel has done just that. The Mavericks are 94-23 since becoming a varsity program in 2008, with this year’s undefeated squad winning its first 13 games by an average score of 50-12.

Much of that success can be attributed to Martin, the 47-year-old former college tight end. Standing 6’3” and still able to bench-press more than 300 pounds, the goateed Texan is imposing and gruff only to those who have never met him.

On any given weekday in late April and May, as many as 20 college coaches watch from the Mavericks sideline as players go through spring practice. Nick Saban, Jim Harbaugh, Bob Stoops and Mark Dantonio have all made stops in Manvel in recent years, along with almost every Division I head coach in Texas. In the past five years alone, 71 Mavericks players have signed college scholarships, leading one opposing coach to label Martin's program as a "clone factory."

A year ago, the attention the Mavericks receive created a problem within their own locker room. Martin says players became so consumed with recruiting rankings and scholarship offers—safety Deontay Anderson announced his commitment to Ole Miss in a video published by B/R that involved him jumping out of a plane—that they lost focus. Manvel still advanced to the state quarterfinals, but its three losses were the program’s most since 2010.

“When a guy tries to encourage a teammate and that teammate responds by saying, ‘How many scholarship offers you got?’…that becomes poison,” Martin says. “That’s when teams start to crumble within. It can’t be about that.”

At a meeting of seniors the Sunday before the start of August two-a-days, Stokes stood before the squad and said he “didn’t want to hear one word about a scholarship.” Apparently, the speech resonated, as the Mavericks now list unity—not talent and athleticism—as the biggest reason for their success.

“We’re getting these kids when they’re at a very influential age,” Martin says. “We have a chance to help mold their character and their work ethic and their personality. We’re in this to change lives.”

It’s a passion Martin carries into his own home.

“When a guy tries to encourage a teammate and that teammate responds by saying, ‘How many scholarship offers you got?’ … That’s when teams start to crumble within. It can’t be about that.”

—Kirk Martin

On Christmas Eve in 2012, an eighth-grader named London Harris and his mother, Natasha, knocked on the coach’s front door. Natasha told the Martins she was having surgery to remove a tumor on her ovary and needed someone to watch 13-year-old London for a few weeks. London was no stranger to the Martins, having lived down the street from them for a semester as a third-grader, when he became close friends with Martin’s son, Kason.

Since then, London had attended nine elementary schools. His father, Manuel, was serving a 10-year sentence in federal prison for money laundering, and Natasha often left London and his older brother with various friends and relatives for months as she struggled to balance her role as a mother with her job at UPS.

The Martins took London into their home that evening, hurrying to the store to buy him last-minute Christmas presents and giving him a bed in the same room as their eldest son, Koda, who is now an offensive lineman at Texas A&M.

After weeks turned into months, Kirk contacted Natasha and told her he’d like London’s stay to become permanent. She agreed.

“Coach Martin became a father figure,” London says. “He gave me someone to look up to.”

The life lessons he has learned from Kirk have paid dividends on the football field, where London—a 6’2”, 210-pound linebacker with 4.4 speed—leads Manvel in tackles.

London has maintained a relationship with Natasha, whom he still sees multiple weekends each month. He’s also reconnected with his father, who received an early release from prison in August and now lives in a halfway house in Houston.

“I’m glad they’re in my life,” London says, “but I know that I’m where I am today because of God and Coach Martin.”

That explains London’s decision last spring to commit to Texas State in nearby San Marcos. Even though bigger schools are beginning to show interest, London is reluctant to venture too far from the family that shaped him.

College, though, is the last thing on London’s mind as he jogs back onto the AT&T Stadium field for the second half against Temple, determined that this game won’t be his last as a Maverick.

The Mavericks celebrate with fans following a second-round playoff victory against New Caney. Photos by Sandy Carson


Standing 10 yards from the line of scrimmage, Derrick Tucker wants to prove he’s worthy of the hype.

A field goal, a 100-yard kickoff return by Preston and a 72-yard touchdown pass from Kason Martin to Stokes have given the Mavericks a 23-18 lead. Now, with Temple mounting a drive midway through the fourth quarter, Tucker knows it’s his turn to make a play that alters the game. In the back of his mind, he remembers the message defensive coordinator Kevin Hall delivered at halftime.

“Don’t act like you just lost your best friend,” Hall barked. “Act like they’re trying to kill your best friend. Find someone out there and run through his mouth and out his butt.”

Mustering a mean streak has never been a problem for Tucker, who once competed in a playoff contest with scabs covering the right side of his face, arms and legs—battle wounds from being bucked off of his horse, Sabrina.

Labeling Tucker’s style as “physical” would be an understatement. While most of his teammates are content to wrangle a running back to the ground by the legs or to shove a receiver out of bounds, Tucker isn’t fulfilled unless his victim is left writhing on the field, wincing in pain as trainers help him to his feet and back to the sideline.

“When I really pop someone—when I hit someone as hard as I can—there’s a little ringing noise that goes off in my ear for about five seconds,” Tucker says. “I love that sound. It gives me goose bumps.”

“Don’t act like you just lost your best friend. Act like they’re trying to kill your best friend.''

—Defensive coordinator Kevin Hall

Tucker’s fire—along with his 6’3”, 180-pound frame—is one of the main reasons ranks him as the 21st-best player in all of Texas. Still, as good as the Texas A&M commit has been on the field, the most impressive thing about him is that he’s even here in the first place.

Derrick was just two weeks old in July 1999 when his mother, Shanta—fresh out of the hospital—gave him away to an 18-year-old friend of her cousin named Syedah Williams. Smitten by the precious infant, Williams joked that she wanted to take him home with her.

“He’s so cute,” she giggled. “Can I have him?”

Shanta was stone-faced.

“Yeah,” she said, “you can.”

Somewhat in shock, Williams extended her arms as Shanta handed over infant Derrick, wearing a beanie as he still slept in the little blue basket provided by the hospital. Shanta gave Syedah his Medicaid information and a WIC card that would allow her to get the government-funded milk to keep the newborn healthy.

When Syedah returned home with Derrick a few hours later and told her mother the story, Delores Williams didn’t believe her. A quick phone call to Shanta, however, confirmed everything.

“My house is always open,” Delores says. “I help whoever needs help. In this case, it was the right thing to do. I prayed about it and God said, ‘Let’s do this. I got you.’”

Delores pauses.

“We told [Shanta] to let us know if she ever felt she was ready to take care of her son. It never happened. I think it worked out for the best, though. Derrick knows he’s loved and well taken care of.

“I’m ‘mom’ to him now,” she says.

As soon as Derrick turned five, Delores signed him up for a number of different sports. It didn’t take long, though, to realize Derrick was better suited for the gridiron. Banner showings at summer camps created a buzz among the football community during Tucker’s junior high years and, after his freshman season at Manvel, coaches from Utah sent word that they wanted to offer him a scholarship.

Martin, though, refused to relay the message. “He hadn’t even played a varsity down,” Martin says. “I didn’t want his head to get too big.”

Hard-hitting safety Derrick Tucker has committed to Texas A&M. Photo by Michael Kirby Smith

One of the most recognizable and well-liked students at Manvel, Tucker ran for homecoming king (and won) only after classmates begged him to do so. He didn’t care enough about being in the senior yearbook to show up for photos, and, recently, Delores and Syedah almost missed an awards banquet during which the Touchdown Club of Houston honored him because he never told them about it.

Tucker also waited three days last spring to inform Delores and Syedah of his verbal commitment to Texas A&M, which he made on a whim without officially visiting any other school.

“I don’t think everything has sunk in yet,” Syedah says. “I’m like, ‘Dude…you’re going to college for free. That’s a big deal.’ But to him, it’s not a big deal. He doesn’t get excited for anything except those times when he’s on the football field. Hopefully that will change once he gets to College Station.”

Martin says it’s often difficult to command the attention of high-profile players who are fawned over by recruiting services and college coaches.

“Whether they’re on a college visit or reading something on the internet, everyone keeps telling them how good they are,” he says, “but then they get back on the field and we’re correcting them and showing them everything they’re doing wrong. They don’t always want to hear it.”

That’s why Hall feels so fulfilled when he sees the strides made by Tucker, whom he says he pushed harder than any player on the squad. Seeing Tucker succeed is even more rewarding, Hall says, knowing the way his life could’ve unfolded all those years ago.

“Most people will never understand the situations that some of our kids live in, or the life experiences they’ve had,“ Hall says. “They don’t see the side of it that we see. With some of our kids…the only time they have someone look them in the eye and tell them they love them is when we do it.”

They’re too far away from the field to express it vocally tonight, but Delores and Syedah are showing Tucker plenty of love and support from the AT&T Stadium stands, waving the Fathead cutout of his face they ordered online and screaming his name as Manvel regains its swagger.

When Tucker intercepts a tipped pass in the end zone midway through the fourth, Manvel seems to be in control.

“We’ve got this!” Tucker screams as he returns to the sideline. “We’ve got this!”

Video by Michael Kirby Smith


Fifteen rows from the field, just to the left of the 50-yard line in the AT&T Stadium stands, Brook Honore—Manvel’s most ardent fan—is too nervous to sit in his chair-back seat.

The Mavericks fail to capitalize on Tucker’s interception and are forced to punt. With just under five minutes remaining, Temple will have the ball trailing 23-18, with a chance to take the lead.

Like most supporters of the program—and perhaps its players, too—Honore never thought the game would be this close.

“Honestly, I’m not worried,” Honore had said a day earlier back in Manvel. “It’s just a feeling, you know? I’ve had it all year. Everyone has. It’s our time now.”

The 45-year-old Honore had been standing near the open smoker he’d loaded onto his trailer and hauled to the high school parking lot. As players filed off the football field after practice, Honore was waiting with plates of ribs and bowls of the seafood gumbo, jambalaya and beans he’d been preparing all morning.

In some ways, Honore is Manvel’s version of Buddy Garrity, the wealthy, charismatic booster club president in the fictional Friday Night Lights TV series. But while Buddy’s meddlesome ways made him a polarizing figure among townsfolk, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in Manvel who will utter a cross word about Honore, whose financial success in the gravel, cement and stone industry never robbed him of his boots-and-baseball-cap charm.

When the athletic department set up a refreshment stand to raise money during the homecoming parade, Honore smoked some 100 sausages on sticks that sold for four bucks a pop. He shelled out thousands of dollars at an auction for helmets used in Manvel’s first win over crosstown rival Alvin. And in 2013, after hearing that perennial power Pearland had made T-shirts poking fun at Manvel before an upcoming game, Honore contacted the printing company, purchased a handful of them and took them to the Mavericks’ practice.

“I just wanted you to see how you’re being disrespected,” he said as he tossed the shirts into the huddle.

Two days later, Manvel beat Pearland 42-7.

“He’s lived here all his life and he always wanted a team to get behind,” Martin says. “He told me the day we opened that he’d always be there to support us. Ten years later, he’s lived it. He’s walked the walk.”

Martin says Honore’s generosity is particularly unique considering he doesn’t have a son in the football program. His oldest daughter, Erica, graduated from Manvel in 2015. A middle child, Natalie, is an 11th-grade volleyball standout, while his son, Brook Jr., is in the eighth grade.

Brook Honore cooks for the Mavericks after practices and games throughout the season. Photo by Sandy Carson

“He has nothing to gain by it,” Martin says. “You always have parents that want to give to the program and act like they’re supporters but, typically, they have ulterior motives. Not that dude. He’s just a genuine, good person that wants to see Manvel grow. I love him.”

So close has Honore become with Manvel’s football coaches that each July he invites them to his lake home in Louisiana for a four-day vacation filled with fishing and Jet Skiing.

The trip also provides Honore another opportunity to partake in his favorite pastime: cooking. Manvel’s football squad knows about Honore’s culinary skills all too well.

Chili, gumbo, etouffee and sausage. A special brisket set aside for the coaching staff. Turkey legs for the offensive linemen. After almost every single game during the regular season, both at home and on the road, Honore and his buddy, Darrell, are there in the trailer, waiting with five-star food for the Mavericks’ players.

This spring, Honore will achieve a longtime dream when he opens Honore’s Cajun Cafe directly across the street from the high school. All of the food he’s served the football squads over the past 10 years will be available at the Manvel-themed restaurant. Among the memorabilia hanging from the walls, Honore says, will hopefully be the jerseys of every Mavericks football player who went on to play in college.

“It’ll be a little biased toward Manvel, and some people may not like that,” Honore chuckles. “That’ll be OK. They don’t have to eat there.”

Nothing would please Honore more than to be able to display memorabilia from Manvel’s first state championship season in his restaurant.

For the past three months, he’d felt confident that would be the case. But late in the fourth quarter, with the Mavericks clinging to a 23-18 lead as Temple’s offense takes the field, Honore is beginning to have his doubts.

Video by Michael Kirby Smith


By his own estimation, Koby Foster has played more than 1,000 snaps during his three-year varsity career. None was as important as this one.

With just over three minutes remaining, Temple faces 4th-and-5 from the Mavericks’ 38-yard line. A stop here and Manvel regains possession, runs out the clock and advances to the state semifinals for just the second time in school history.

A 6’2”, 315-pound nose tackle, Foster has already recorded a sack and a slew of quarterback hurries. One more big play—in the key moment of a high-stakes game—and he’ll be a local legend forever.

“Explode off that ball, Koby!” yells Hall, the defensive coordinator. “You’ve gotta be quick!”

No matter what happens, Foster has already left his imprint on Manvel’s program.

On the field, his teammates call him “The Black Hole.” Only one tailback all season eclipsed the 100-yard mark against a Foster-led defense that allows just 76 ground yards per game. An absolute terror even when facing double-teams, he’s virtually unblockable one-on-one.

Along with being one of the most respected players on the roster, he’s arguably the most well-liked. Still five months shy of his 18th birthday, with braces and a smile that never seems to fade, Foster jokes with the trainers taping his ankles and student volunteers as if they were his teammates. Strangers request selfies after games and women ask if they can hug him. Just because.

Hall says Foster reminds him of Baloo, the jovial, ticklish bear from the Disney movie The Jungle Book.

“Koby Foster,” Hall says, “is one of the most wonderful, happy, smiling kids I’ve ever been around. He’s one of the finest players I’ve ever coached.”

That’s why the situation surrounding Foster is so frustrating for Manvel’s staff. While Preston, Tucker, Stokes and others generate interest from Division I schools across the country, Foster is a virtual unknown in the world of college recruiting. Sure, schools such as Central Arkansas, The Citadel and Northwestern State have offered scholarships. Appreciative as he is for any opportunity, Foster is convinced he’s worthy of something better.

“I’m playing my hardest,” Koby said a few days before the Temple game. “If they see me, they see me. If they like me, they like me. I’m doing all I can do.”

Nose tackle Koby Foster squats 580 pounds and bench presses 350. Photo by Sandy Carson

Along with his being a standout player, the example Foster sets for his teammates off the field makes Manvel’s coaches grateful. Koby’s dad, Garnet, is Manvel’s vice principal, while his mother, Alfredia, is a guidance counselor at the school. His parents stay abreast of his academics. “They know my homework assignments before I do,” Koby jokes.

At home, Koby is responsible for the upkeep of the front and back yards—mowing and edging the lawn and maintaining the flower beds. He does the dishes after dinner and is expected to keep his room clean. Common as the tasks may seem for some teenagers, not all of Foster’s teammates can relate.

“He gets mad at us because he says most of his friends don’t have chores,” Garnet says. “But deep down, I think he knows what the bigger picture is—that we’re preparing him not just for college but for life after it.”

In some form or fashion, Foster hopes that life involves football.

Even with no Division I offers and national signing day less than two months away, Manvel’s staff isn’t giving up on the possibility of Foster earning a scholarship to a major conference school. A handful of scouts are watching from suites as the Mavericks battle Temple. With the college season ending earlier that night, the number of recruiters will increase significantly for the semifinal round the following week.

But first, Manvel has to win. And to do that, it needs to stop the Wildcats on 4th-and-5.

Foster crouches into his three-point stance, the fingertips of his right hand pressed against the ground. The ball is snapped, and before Foster can get past his defender, Temple quarterback Reid Hesse drops one step back and fires a quick, six-yard pass that is caught just past the line to gain for a first down.

Two plays later, capitalizing on a Mavericks defense that’s clearly deflated, Hesse connects with D’Yonte Heckstall in the left corner of the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown.

Now trailing 24-23 with 3:05 remaining after Temple’s two-point conversion attempt went awry, Foster and the Manvel defense hang their heads as they trudge off the field, hopefully not for the final time.

The Mavericks cite team unity and brotherhood as two of their biggest strengths. Photo by Sandy Carson


With the arms of his big brother, Koda, wrapped around him, Kason Martin sobs with such intensity that he has trouble breathing. The quarterback had driven Manvel to midfield after Temple took its late lead, but a fourth-down sack with one minute left finalizes a result so many had never fathomed.

Temple 24
Manvel 23

Once again, the Mavericks have been denied a state title. And this time it happens in the smaller, weaker Class 5A—with arguably Manvel’s best team ever.

As Temple takes a knee to run out the clock, Kason’s cries become louder. Blue-chip receiver Kam Scott bawls as he paces the sideline, still wearing his helmet. So upset is London Harris that security guards escort both his mother, Natasha, and Martin’s wife, Caren, on the field to console him.

“This was our year. This was IIIITTTT!” sobs Harris, breaking free from his mother’s embrace. Tears stream down his cheeks as he paces back and forth, punching at the air and grimacing as Temple’s players celebrate.

“That should be US,” he says. “WE should be going to state!”

The reactions and raw emotions are gut-wrenching to witness. Even the managers and trainers weep in each other’s arms.

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Linebacker London Harris mourns the loss to Temple. Photo by Sandy Carson

More than sadness, these are tears of pain.

“I failed you,” Martin, his voice calm and gentle, tells the Mavericks in their final on-field huddle. “I owe all of you an apology. I didn’t have you ready to play tonight. That’s on me.”

Virtually every loss is accompanied by regrets and what-ifs, and this one comes with plenty. The ill-advised direct snap to Preston—who was five yards deep in his own end zone—that results in the safety just before halftime. A would-be touchdown pass that bounces off a receiver’s helmet. An offsides penalty on fourth down that extends Temple’s game-winning drive.

Change the course of even one of those plays, and Manvel—which defeated each of its first 13 opponents by double digits—wins the game.

“A hard pill to swallow,” Martin says, although the sorrow he feels for his players will always outweigh the frustration he’ll harbor within himself. This isn’t the first time Martin has experienced the jolt of a season-ending upset. It likely won’t be the last. Ten months from now, he’ll be back under the Friday night lights in Manvel, gunning once again for that elusive state title.

Most of these players, these seniors, won’t get that chance. Their Mavericks career is over and, well, absorbing that reality is tougher in these parts. In most states, football is simply something people do. In Texas, for two or three years in high school—and often much longer than that—football can define who you are.

Perhaps that explains why players from Temple decide to show Manvel the ultimate sign of respect nearly 10 minutes after the final horn. Halting their celebration, they walk across the field to the grieving Mavericks sideline.

As the band plays the opening verse of the school’s fight song one final time, Manvel’s opponents raise their helmets high into the air.

They won’t lower their arms until the final note.


While the majority of the Mavericks rode the chartered bus back to Manvel immediately following the game—they arrived in the school parking lot shortly before 6 a.m. Sunday—others stayed in Arlington-area hotels with their parents and drove home the next morning.

That included Derrick Tucker and Keylon Stokes, who rode on a “party bus” that their relatives had rented for the weekend.

Some party.

As if the loss didn’t dampen the mood enough, the bus broke down about an hour outside of town. The players spent most of the day at a gas station, waiting as mechanics made repairs. They didn’t get home until late Sunday night.

Then there was Jalen Preston, who had initially hoped to celebrate a Manvel win with a Sunday trip to the Six Flags amusement park less than two miles from AT&T Stadium. Instead, he made the four-plus-hour drive home with his parents and younger sister.

“Jalen usually doesn’t show a lot of emotion,” his mother said. “But he was boohooing in the car. He kept saying, ‘What could I have done different to help us win?’”

What happened to Temple, you ask? The Wildcats beat Foster High School, 31-24, in the state semifinals the following week but lost to Dallas Highland Park 16-7 in the Class 5A state championship game on December 17 at AT&T Stadium. John Stephen Jones, the grandson of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, played quarterback for Highland Park.

Preston didn’t get to take much time off from sports after Manvel’s loss to Temple. Three days later, he was in the starting lineup for the Mavericks basketball squad. A returning first-team all-district guard, Preston is averaging 14.8 points for Manvel and has already had two viral dunks—one on an alley-oop, the other on a windmill. Although schools (including then-No. 2-ranked Baylor) continue to inquire about him in both sports, Preston will likely focus on football in college. He was recently invited to play in the 2018 Under Armour All-America Game.

Tucker was one of 10 finalists for the Houston Touchdown Club’s Defensive Player of the Year. Although he didn’t win, he was honored at a suit-and-tie banquet and was accompanied by Delores and Syedah Williams, along with Kirk Martin.

Koby Foster’s performance late in the season generated interest from Division I schools such as Memphis, Kansas and SMU. Coaches from all three programs visited Manvel to meet with Foster in person. But on January 18, he announced that he had committed to Central Arkansas, which had been the leader on a long list of small-school suitors. 

Brook Honore says he expects to open “Honore’s Cajun Cafe” in April.

Jason King is a senior writer for B/R Mag. A former staff writer at, Yahoo Sports and the Kansas City Star, King's work has received mention in the popular book series The Best American Sports Writing. In both 2015 and 2016, King was tabbed as one of the top five beat writers in the nation by the APSE. Follow him on Twitter: @JasonKingBR.

Video Production by Lindsay Blatt

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